Garrett Celek

49ers free agents: Six under-the-radar players ready for open market

49ers free agents: Six under-the-radar players ready for open market

Editor's note: This is the final installment of a series in which we examined the 49ers’ scheduled free agents. We conclude with a look at the team’s under-the-radar free agents and those who have already retired.

Jason Verrett, CB

The 49ers took a calculated gamble last offseason that Verrett could remain healthy. He did not.

Verrett entered the Week 3 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and was beaten badly for a TD. He was removed from the game and went on season-ending injured reserve due to knee issues.

The 49ers should have a handle on the extent of his physical issues after he was in the building for the season. But it seems reasonable that the 49ers gave it a shot for one season and do not have to give it another try.

Shon Coleman, OT

The 49ers sent a seventh-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns at the start of the 2018 regular season to acquire Coleman. He was inactive for his entire first season with the 49ers.

A year ago, he was projected to be the team’s swing tackle. But he sustained a fractured right fibula and dislocated ankle in the team’s first preseason game. Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill took over as the team’s backup tackles behind Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey.

If the 49ers were impressed by what the saw from Coleman on the practice field and meetings, they could bring him back on a one-year deal.

Damontre Moore, DE

Moore had a really good training camp and was the last cut before the start of the regular season. The team struggled with that decision. Somewhat surprisingly, no other NFL team picked up Moore.

He was still available when Ronald Blair sustained with a season-ending ACL tear. (Blair is scheduled for free agency, too.) Moore immediately stepped into a spot in the 49ers’ D-line rotation. But his season came to a quick end with a fractured forearm.

Jordan Matthews, WR

The 49ers made a mini-splash by signing Matthews last offseason. He was cut before the start of the regular season, then went to his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, for a couple of games before he was let go. 

San Francisco had Matthews for a couple of stints during the season. He appeared in one game and did not catch a pass. The 49ers can go in another direction this offseason.

Dontae Johnson, CB

Johnson appeared in seven games last season while bouncing on and off the roster. Johnson is not a bad insurance policy to have in the back pocket to step onto the field in a pinch.

There is no urgency to re-sign him, but he definitely is an option to be with the club in the offseason for competition and insurance.

Anthony Zettel, DE

Backups Blair and Moore were injured, and Jeremiah Valoaga did not give the 49ers what they wanted. So the 49ers signed Zettel in late-December. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek had experience with Zettel from their days together with the Detroit Lions.

Zettel ultimately played 15 snaps in Super Bowl LIV, but the 49ers can certain look for other backup options with more upside.

Garrett Celek, TE

Celek Time has come to an end. The popular backup tight end announced his retirement this offseason after experiencing back issues in recent seasons.

He played eight seasons with the club after signing as an undrafted rookie in 2012 from Michigan State. Celek concluded his career with 82 receptions for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns. George Kittle, Ross Dwelley and Levine Toilolo, who is scheduled for free agency, were on the 49ers' roster as tight ends last season.

[RELATED: 49ers should target these five offensive players]

Earl Mitchell, NT

Mitchell came out of retirement to play for the 49ers down the stretch after D.J. Jones was placed on injured reserve. Mitchell had a limited role as a rotational player in the playoffs.

After playing 19 snaps in the Super Bowl behind starter Sheldon Day, Mitchell said he decided to step away from the game permanently. Mitchell, 32, played nine NFL seasons.

49ers tight end Garrett Celek retires from NFL after eight seasons

49ers tight end Garrett Celek retires from NFL after eight seasons

Garrett Celek announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday after eight seasons with the 49ers. 

"I can’t thank the 49ers organization enough for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dreams and all of the countless relationships I’ve made along the way, especially my Tight Ends, thanks for supplying me with endless stories and memories. Niner Faithful, thank you for cheering me on these past 8 seasons, love y’all, Celektime is clockin out," Celek wrote on Instagram. 

Celek, 31, said before the 49ers' loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV that he was contemplating retirement. On Friday, a decision was announced. 

[RELATED: 49ers' Shanahan, Lynch start to shift focus to 2020 season]

Celek underwent surgery in June to repair a herniated disk at the L-4 and L-5 levels. He began the season on injured reserve and appeared in five games before his back flared up. The 49ers placed him on IR in mid-December. He said he will not require another surgical procedure on his back.

The veteran tight end did not catch any passes this season, and finishes his career with 82 receptions, 1,104 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 91 games.

How George Kittle's mentality helps him play through serious pain

How George Kittle's mentality helps him play through serious pain

MIAMI, Fla. -- George Kittle’s bruising style of play can take a toll on his body, but since his rookie season, the 49ers tight end has been able to power through the injuries that would stop a normal person. 

Since being drafted in 2017, Kittle has developed into the top playmaker for the 49ers' offense. But not too long ago Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch did have some concerns about the tight end following his first season with the club.  

They were concerned about him staying healthy. 

“I mean, football, which as I’ve learned over the years is availability is your best ability,” Kittle said. “Just being on the field playing. There’s an extent, playing hurt versus playing injured, it’s different. But if you can play, you can play, and you just want to be out there.”  

Tight end coach Jon Embree believes there was a mental hurdle that Kittle needed to get over which is what happened during the offseason before his second season. 

“His first year, the things he couldn’t control like the high ankle sprain, no matter what you do, you don’t control that,” Embree said. “I told him, instead of focusing on that, just focus on the fact that you played a lot of games hurt with that ankle. That showed his toughness.

“I think that helped him understand that when he is nicked up, he still plays at a very high level. I think going through what he went through that rookie year gave him that basically ‘you have to kill me to stop me’ mentality.”  

That mentality is one part of Kittle’s makeup but there are several things that the tight end has learned through practicing yoga with his sister, Emma, to tips from veterans on the team. 

“You just have to figure out how to do it,” Kittle said.

"Luckily for me, I had Garrett Celek which was awesome. The things I learned from him I still do to this day. Having a veteran like that my rookie year too, that helped me because he played plenty of seasons injured. For me it was if he can do it, I can do it and that was just kind of my mentality.”  

[RELATED: Kittle vs. Kelce, too close to call before SB LIV]

Embree believes that what Kittle does physically and mentally is invaluable to the team. The drive and effort that he puts into the game is contagious and you can see it throughout the locker room. 

"He’s always going to, because of the way he plays, he’s always going to be someone who gets kind of nicked," Embree said. “He may miss a game here or there. But also I know he could be a great player and impact player for us at 70-percent, and that’s huge.” 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (9:30 p.m. Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.